Euro 2016 qualifiers: Serbia-Albania match abandoned after mass brawl
The politically-sensitive Euro 2016 qualifier between Serbia and Albania was abandoned on Tuesday (Oct 14) - following a brawl between players from both sides.
The Group I game, with no away fans permitted, was interrupted when a flag depicting a so-called Greater Albania (an area covering all parts of the Balkans where ethnic Albanians live) was flown over the terraces and pitch by what appeared to be a remote controlled mini drone near the end of the first half.
Serbian player Stefan Mitrovic eventually grabbed the flag at the Partizan stadium, prompting an angry reaction from Albanian players.
An unsightly melee ensued.
Stefan Mitrovic of Serbia grabs an Albanian flag that was flown over the pitch. Photo: Reuters
Riot police moved in when around a dozen fans invaded the pitch and attacked the Albanian players.
The players were forced to retreat into the tunnel as flares were thrown from the terraces.
Riot police clashing with fans. Photo: Reuters
After a 30-minute delay or so, English referee Martin Atkinson abandoned the game, which stood at 0-0.
“What happened is something we can’t comprehend at the moment,” Serbia captain Branislav Ivanovic told reporters.
“On behalf of my team, all I can say is that we wanted to carry on and that we shielded the Albanian players every step of the way to the tunnel (after the riot broke out).
“The Albanian team said they were unfit physically and mentally to carry on after talking to the officials and they will now decide the fate of this match.
We can only regret that football took a back seat but it is difficult to draw any conclusions or make any comments now.”
Albanian captain Lorik Cana told Albanian television: “I saw my players being attacked and hit even inside the tunnel, and even by the stewards.
"We were not in the right psychological or physical state to continue playing.”
Serbian state television reported that Olsi Rama, the brother of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, was arrested in the VIP section on suspicion of instigating the flag stunt.
Albanian Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri said that to the best of his knowledge, Olsi Rama had left the stadium for the airport, according to information he had from Serbia’s interior ministry and Albanian officials in Belgrade.
Asked if he had been arrested on suspicion of organising the drone stunt, Tahiri told Reuters: “Not to my knowledge. It’s speculation.”
Security was tight for a game at which no away fans were present.
The match was held against a backdrop of long-running Serb-Albanian tensions over Kosovo, a majority-Albanian former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008.
Sources: Reuters, YouTube